Sunday, February 4, 2018

Girl's gotta write

So, it's the first Sunday of February 2018 and the beginning of the second year of the administration of the Orange Man - and despite all my assurances to myself last year about getting back to more creative writing, it just didn't happen. Like a lot of people, I have struggled with where my writing goes next, what projects to complete, or to alter before submitting, how to really hear this moment in the culture, to penetrate it with all I know from my own life story and the wisdom simmering inside it all.

What is it I want or need to write now? Poetry abandoned me. While that is not my primary mode of writing, I found joy in it. The more I wrote poems, and then the more the poems started showing up, the more I felt poetry-writing to get a hold of me. Whether or not I am a decent poet, writing poems have made me a better writer.

Last year was hard. I have been a committed "social change agent" (not a perfect descriptor but better and more accurate than "activist") since the Vietnam War days. The other work I do - on the nexus among ecology, culture, and spirituality, the talks I give, the workshops I offer, the blog posts I write, the website I maintain, my engagement in an urban farm in Milwaukee and core participant in a new emergent community called "The Table"  - all of that work and effort intensified at a deep emotional level; it felt more meaningful, necessary, even urgent, a way to stay engaged in a time when everything seems to be falling apart.

Given that history, and despite not being surprised at the collapse scenario that seems well underway now, I was shaken as much as anyone by the 2016 election result, aware of what it would mean for this society. It accelerates every aspect of the collapse, particularly the ecological, political, and cultural aspects of it - pours grease on the slide, as the nation fragments, comes apart as a coherent polity, and as this constitutional order that once held those fragments together also comes apart.

How does one address this people, this culture, at this moment? After all, the point is to communicate, isn't it? How do writers of all kinds help illuminate this moment - in stories and metaphors, in verse and creative narratives? I look for direction, but have yet found my own.

I know this time in our political culture is effect, not cause. It is emergent from decades of a slow, but now rapidly accelerating decline of this empire called the United States of America. I have been reading a lot these days about the collapse of complex societies, empires, civilizations. We have all the hallmarks of the last stages. Empires come and go. What makes this time especially scary, compared to previous collapses down through history (Rome, the ancient Chinese empires, the Mayas and Incas, the Spanish, the British) is the power of our weapons of mass destruction, their potential to destroy life as we know it forever in an instant, and the planetary crisis that threatens living ecosystems all around the planet because of the global industrial growth economy.

We have gotten ourselves into a helluva predicament, yes?

Look, this a hard time to live, to get one's bearings, to stay calm (stable mind, in Buddhist terms), to tamp down the fear and acknowledge the inevitability of this time. It's what we humans have to live through. We have no choice about that. The only choice we do have is the one I offered as title to the last chapter in my 2008 book, Living Beyond the 'End of the World:' A Spirituality of Hope:
what kind of human beings will we be as we go through the crisis?
In her latest book, Who Do We Choose To Be, echoing my chapter title, Margaret Wheatley, systems thinker, leadership trainer, speaker, and more, writes: "We enter the path by bravely facing reality, willing to see with clarity and discernment where we are and how we got here. We seek to understand the forces at work that created this present world..."

We enter that path not to throw ourselves into heaps of depression and despair, but to empower ourselves to live creatively in this failing world, to live creatively even as things seem to be falling apart all around us. If anything I write can help us do that, well, that sounds like a mission to me.

I will be engaging an 8-month training with Wheatley this year, training to become a Warrior for the Human Spirit. I'm pretty sure that's going to stimulate some new writing and I look forward to that with keen anticipation, a way to free up what's been simmering inside for much of 2017. I don't know where you will find it yet, but I will get it out there one way or another.

So, stay tuned. This time I mean it. I will be writing. And I will be posting about writing here on this blog.

~ Margaret Swedish

Monday, November 13, 2017

Meanwhile, during the unraveling...

What did we do? What are we doing? What are we creating?

Because create we must.

Yesterday I saw an intimate version of Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya" at an invitation-only performance at the Actors Studio in Manhattan. The great Estelle Parsons directed, welcomed us, spoke after and invited her actors' input in a post-performance talk-back. I mean, if you love theater...

I had read the play during a semester course on 19th century Russian literature back in my university days in Boulder CO, but had never seen it performed. I have long been attracted to the darkness and despair in a lot of Russian lit, though I cannot tell you why. I'm neither dark nor despairing. But I think I always picked up something that feels a deeply rooted part of the human angst - the struggle with meaninglessness, the psycho-spiritual version of entropy, the darkness that lies at the heart of Christianity with its body-loathing, belief in the power of some outside Devil always ready to draw us into the filth of the world, judgment and a wrathful God.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Writing in the 'End Times' - a comprehensive mission statement for this writer

No, not those end times, not the biblical apocalypse, not the extinction of humans that so many environmentalists predict is imminent, not the death of the planet (it will live on long after we're gone). No, the end of these times, the end of the US American era, the end of U.S. dominance in the world, the end, more than likely, of our political and governing institutions as we have known them.

Only for most U.S. Americans do we not notice that this is happening, so comfortable are we in perceiving ourselves within a certain way of being that we cannot imagine it could ever end.

But it's ending. As I have written elsewhere and repeatedly, Trumpism is not cause but effect. The collapses underway opened a huge vacuum in the culture into which these people could storm in. The destructive force of this rightist movement, ideologically rigid, uncompromising, and fully bent on destroying government as a service to its people (who merely pay for it after all), has been paving the way for this takeover for a long time. The vacuum was created when the 2-party system ended up fully bought by different factions of global corporate power, when more and more people realized that their lives had become irrelevant to the powers-that-be.

Okay, this is not a political blog. It's a blog about writing and why I write. But why I write, and what I write about, the things that most concern me and make it worth my time to sit with my journal or laptop, has a lot to do with how I perceive the times in which we live.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Losing focus - then trying to get it back

I imagine this is the plague of many a writer whose work addresses the times in which we live. I imagine it is also impact of the rapidity of change in our world right now, the intensity of events, and the intense connectivity and exchange of information with which most of us engage on a daily basis now as we try to understand our human predicament.

I've struggled as a writer this year - not because of who is in the White House (though that adds a measure to it) - but because of how clear it has become that we are facing a mixture of crises that are unfolding rapidly and which we humans do not seem to have the capacity to address, at least not in a way commensurate with the scale of the crises.

I've been working around themes of ecology, spirituality, and culture for some years now. But clearly they are not differentiated "themes" anymore. They are a nexus, a point of connection at which the true nature of the crisis is revealed -

Friday, April 7, 2017

Threshold or Precipice

A bit of a thrill ride, isn't it - the circumstances that lead to that headline?

Because we don't know which one it is. We don't know if we are on the verge of a major breakthrough or a complete collapse. I don't know if we have lived in such an unpredictable time, at least not since World War II.

I feel the uncertainty. Many, many do. Many feel it without knowing what it is they feel, and that, too is scary, makes the times even more unpredictable, because people don't always act rationally when they are both afraid and not clear about what it is they fear exactly. Easy to project onto "the other," then. Easy for the moment to sink into chaos and more violence.

Also to seek simple solutions and a savior, a strongman, to make their world coherent again.

We are sinking into a period of incoherence.